Appellate Judge Dan Mancini did not spray paint "Lincoln Surf Punks Rule" on the side of Forest Whitaker's Ford Mustang.
The dead never forget.
So far as I know, director Jordan Barker's The Marsh isn't a Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror flick, but it might as well be. A few years back, J-Horror, with its focus on ghostly children and low-key images that inspire skin-crawling heebie-jeebies, provided genre fans a welcome diversion from the blood, guts, and ankle-twisting damsels in distress in American-made serial killer and bogeyman flicks. But the tonal and visual similarities between Ringu, Ju-on, Kairo, and Dark Water (not to mention their Hollywood remakes) ensured this little imported subgenre grew stale tout de suite. So it is that The Marsh arrives to home theaters late to the party and feeling like a movie we've seen before and have long ago grown tired of.
Barker's venture into ghost storytelling draws us into the mixed-up world of successful children's author Claire Holloway (Gabrielle Anwar, Scent of a Woman). She's plagued by nightmares of being lost in a haunted mansion surrounded by a creepy dried-up marsh, pursuing a young child she can't catch while also being pursued by something unnamable and horrifying. Hypnosis, drugs, and the clinical study of her dreams have failed to ease her condition. In a last-ditch effort to find relief, she seeks rest and recuperation in the country. Unfortunately, the lonely resort at which she's booked looks suspiciously like the manse in her dreams (as a matter of fact, it's identical). Soon her nightmares manifest during her waking hours. In her quest to discover the horrible secret haunting the mansion's sleepy, wintry town, Claire eventually finds allies in the editor of a local newspaper (Justin Louis, Fallen Arches) and a paranormal consultant (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland). Her own repressed past is, of course, tied up in the dirty deeds causing this otherworldly pandemonium.
The real mystery at the heart of The Marsh is how in the world casting directors Ron Leach and Heidi Levitt convinced Forest Whitaker to sign onto the project. Either they're charming as hell or they came into possession of evidence incriminating the top-notch actor in some moral or legal perfidy. Surely, Whitaker knew the movie would be a turkey before the first magazine of film rolled. The script is beyond predictable; it's ridiculous. Some major plot holes bring the entire show to its knees. What explanation is there besides lazy screenwriting for Claire's lackadaisical decision to stay at a mansion resort identical to the one in her nightmares?
Whitaker couldn't have taken the role because of some personal connection to the particular character he would play. His paranormal consultant is a walking cliché with no range, depth, or texture. His considerable talent is completely wasted. Gabrielle Anwar is the only of the actors afforded the juicy opportunity to overact in classic horror flick fashion, screaming and weeping and looking gobsmacked with terror. Whitaker looks bored. And cheated. And maybe a little dumbfounded.
Perhaps Mr. Whitaker observed (correctly) that countless other horror movies have transcended inept screenwriting by offering audiences bone-chilling roller coaster thrills, and assumed (incorrectly) that this would be the case with The Marsh. Unfortunately, the movie's handling of tension and release is so pedestrian and formulaic that I was never once startled or given the creeps. The Marsh inspires loads of sleepy apathy, but not a single fright. If you ignore my advice to ignore this movie, you'll feel nary a tickle in the pit of your stomach, the hair on the nape of your neck will remain firmly prostrate, your knuckles will never whiten on the arms of your sofa, and your voice won't screech girlishly in gleeful fright (regardless of whether or not your girl). Don't be fooled by Whitaker's face on the cover of the DVD. The Marsh is a big, fat dud fortunate enough to have snared an A-list actor to lend it more credibility than it deserves.
On the technical front, the DVD offers an attractive transfer. A patina of fine grain lends the image a celluloid look. Detail is sharp. Colors are accurate, though sometimes stylized, with deep blacks and finely differentiated shadows. Foggy scenes are rendered with a maximum of gothic style and no sign of blocking or pixilation.
Audio comes in two equally bombastic flavors: the original English tracks and a Thai dub. Both are presented in Dolby 5.1 surround. They make maximum use of Mark Gingras's aggressive sound design which blends abstract, thunderous metallic sounds with the ominous score in an attempt to reinforce scares in the way now de rigeuer in haunt flicks.
The only extra is a 26-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. It's a thorough piece that covers all aspects of the production.
The Marsh is derivative, predictable, and not worth your time or money. It's guilty as charged.
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• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
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